As the twig is bent...
The only choice
“Cadet,” commandant Girol's voice always intimidated Atira Darok, first year cadet of Military Preparation Academy, a school, which she attended to maximise her chances of getting to the Cardassian Military Academy. His voice was raspy and low; each time he spoke she had an impression the floor was vibrating. “It was brought to my attention that you have some problems with some of school subjects.”
“Yes, sir,” she had to admit it was the truth.
“Could you elaborate?” he asked, looking at her from under his scaly brows.
“I... me...” she started forming a sentence in her mind, but realised she lacked necessary vocabulary. After a moment of fruitless thinking she gave up and closed her open for speaking mouth.
“As I suspected,” he nodded his head knowingly. “You do not speak the Union language well, do you?”
She shook her head. “No, sir.”
“But you understand.”
“That explains why you are the quietest cadet in this school's history,” he smiled a weak smile, then rose. “Look, cadet, your tactical skills are too valuable to lose them because of such a trivial thing as a language. We have additional classes for cadets, whose command of the Union language is not as it should be. I will assign you to one of these classes.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don't thank me yet. If you are not fluent by beginning of your first grade at the academy, you're out. Is that clear?”
“Good. Now, go back to your classroom.”
Six months earlier
Darok didn't believe it. It could not have happened. Not again! She left the house and her sister's whining behind and went toward desert's sands.
It was a hot, dry day. She felt warm breeze on her face, and sun's rays; she could see the horizon through clear air. This beautiful day was the same as any other day of harsh, desert weather; but this day was marked with death, just as the other day last winter.
Another child died. Another child suffered, because Cardassia was too dry, too hot and too poor to feed it. It wasn't just any child, it wasn't statistics. It was her sister's youngest. The little girl followed her not much older uncle – Atira's youngest brother.
And that was not the end. If something wouldn't be done, another family member would starve to death.
She roamed the desert; her initially shy idea was growing ripe and taking shape and after a few hours she knew what to do not to let anyone else to die. She just needed courage to tell her father about her plan. He would find a way to explain it to others. She quickly headed for the house.
Old Vares Darok was sitting outside, sipping tea and looking at those few fruit trees, which grew near their house. One of trees died last year, the rest wasn't giving many fruits.
“Dad,” she approached him. He looked at her, but said nothing. “Dad, I made a decision.”
One of his eye ridges raised. She sat next to him.
“I will go to serve in the Guard,” she announced. “I will work hard and send you money, and I will become a Gul and send you lots of food and you won't have to worry again.”
He smiled; it was a sad, melancholic smile. He reached and stroke her cheek ridges with the back of his hand.
“You always were brave, my girl,” he said. “It's very considerate of you to want to take care of your family, but I don't think it's a good idea.”
“It wouldn't be easy for you, you're a girl, and usually boys go to the academy. And you're a poor girl from province, not a noble born child from the capitol. They would mock you.”
“So I'll prove them a good soldier is a smart soldier, not a rich one.”
“And at the academy,” he continued, just as she hadn't said anything, “they speak the Union language. The same we listen to in broadcasts. Since you always liked watching broadcasts with me you understand the Union language well, but we never spoke it at home. You can't speak it.”
“I'll learn,” her voice was full of resolve... and hope.
He just shook his head.
“Dad, Let me try. Just try. If I fail, I'll return here, but at least you'd have one mouth less to feed for a few of months.”
“I'll talk to your mum about it.”
“All right,” she smiled. “Want some more tea?” she asked, seeing his cup was already empty.
Atira was in her room, listening to a podcast, repeating words, determined to learn the Union language as soon as possible. She heard knocking.
It was her mother.
“Your dad told me about your idea,” she said simply.
Here we go, thought Atira. “Yes,” she replied slowly, awaiting what Lanita would say.
“Are you sure you want this?”
“Did you think it over? It's the first time I hear of it.”
“Mum, I would be able to help you, all of you. My pay would...”
“Atira, it is not about money,” her mother cut her off. “Our relations with the Federation get tensed and people say a war is going to break out soon. They could send you to fight and to die. Do you understand it?” The girl didn't have an immediate reply. “It is going to be hard, because you're a girl, a scientific career would be more appropriate,” Lanita continued.
“You don't want me to go,” Atira said bitterly.
“No, it's not that. I would be very proud of you if you'd make a career as an officer. It would mean prestige for you. And a better life. And a distinguished service to Cardassia.”
“But you have to really want it. You would never make a good officer if you'd follow only your pay, and being a mediocre officer is below your skills and intelligence. You need to put your heart into it.”
“So you don't think I can do it...” it wasn't a question, she was stating a fact in a resigned tone, lowering her head.
“No, you don't listen to me,” her mother said. “I want you to think it over. Give it a few days, sleep it over. And then make a decision, all right?”
“All right,” the girl nodded.
“Remember about the glory, but also remember about the sorrow. Remember you may serve Cardassia with your life, but don't forget you might have to give your life for it,” she paused. “Here,” Lanita handed her a holoimage. “This is your great grandfather. I am sure he would be happy if you'd choose to follow in his steps, as neither my father nor I did.”
There was a tall, lanky male in the picture. He wore an armour, his face was showing pride and dignity. Could she ever look like this?
Her mother left her room and she heard her steps leading downstairs.
She stayed sitting on her bed, listening to the podcast and looking at her great grandfather for a long, long time. She had no idea her family had any military history. She found this revelation intriguing.